When Major League Baseball created interleague play, the minds in charge did so with the interest of the fans and the possible rain fall of money it could generate in smaller markets when big-time teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers or Chicago Cubs visit their cities.
But when this entertaining idea came to fruition in 1997 when interleague action first took place, National League and American League teams played each other in the middle of the campaign. The games were fun to watch—series such as the Pirates playing the Red Sox, who never played each other. Or teams from the same city battling for supremacy like the Mets vs. Yankees or Cubs vs. White Sox or Dodgers vs. Angels.
Now interleague play has been a part of MLB scheduling for 22 years and the development has taken a wrong turn in terms of interest for fans.
In 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers opened the season with an interleague match. No Opening Day game should be interleague—that is ridiculous. Even more ludicrous is scheduling interleague games in the final weekend of the year. The Tigers and Brewers had their final three games of the season in Milwaukee.
In the heat of a battle for the N.L. Central Division title the Brewers are playing a weak American League team while the club they are tied with in the standings, the Chicago Cubs, had their arch rival St. Louis Cardinals visiting Wrigley Field to end the year.
How does that even come about?
Shouldn’t those schedule makers review the games they have set in stone and understand if they make sense? It has always been tradition for teams to face off against division rivals in the final month of the season. And it is understood that with each division having a five-team alignment, one club will not be able to play a division foe. But that should not mean they play an opponent from the other league . . . there should be no interleague games in the final month when the division races heat up.
The season finale for the Cubs and Brewers will be an exciting one regardless, but in fairness the Brewers caught a huge break in having to play a Detroit club that owned a 64-95 record entering the final weekend while the Cubs were playing a Cardinals team still in the hunt for a wild card playoff berth with an 87-72 mark.
Before Sunday’s conclusion of the 2018 regular season, both Milwaukee and Chicago will enter play on Sept. 30 with 94-67 records and without taking any credit away from either club, it appears wrong for the Brewers to finish their historic campaign with an interleague game—whether it is against Detroit or the Red Sox or the Yankees.
The point being made is that no interleague games should be played during the final month of the season. Those last weeks of the campaign should be primer games for teams to battle for division titles and/or play teams they may face for a possible pennant showdown.
Since interleague play began, there have been six division races where teams were tied for first-place going into the final game (No. 162) of the season. And in each of those battles, the teams played a division foe except for the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2010, the Rays and Yankees were tied for first in the A.L. East division and on that final day of the year, Tampa played the Kansas City Royals while the Yankees played the Red Sox.
Despite the latest trend that schedule makers have created with interleague games being played to open and close the season, it diminishes the most exciting element of the game . . . and that is keeping and creating division rivalries.
In crucial games in a division or pennant race, the scheduled duels should be between teams of the same league with most division rival contests being set to take place in the final month of the season.
History shows that baseball is at its best when heated battles for a postseason invitation are resolved when teams from the same division or league engage in combat for the chance to capture a pennant.
If we turn back the clock during the interleague era, the four previous exciting matchups that took place when two teams were tied in the standings on the final day of the season were:
- 2006 A.L. Central—the Twins and Tigers both took a 95-66 record into the final day against division opponents. Detroit played the Royals and lost, 10-8 in extra-innings while the Twins defeated the White Sox, 5-1, to win the crown.
- 2007 N.L. East—the Phillies and Mets were tied with 88-73 records before the start of game No. 162. Both clubs faced division foes with the Mets losing to the Marlins, 8-1, and the Phillies claiming the division flag with a 6-1 win over Washington.
- 2010 A.L. East—The Rays and Yankees were in a heated battle all year for division supremacy and on the final day of the season were tied with 95-66 records. Tampa was scheduled to play the Royals from the A.L. Central while New York faced off against bitter division rival Boston. The Yankees lost, 8-4, at Fenway Park while Tampa defeated Kansas City, 3-2, in 12 innings to claim their second division title in three years.
- 2012 A.L. West—After the first 161 regular season games, the A’s and Rangers both had 93 wins and 68 losses. And in the best possible scenario, the two clubs played each other in the season finale with the Athletics coming out on top with a 12-5 victory over the Rangers in Oakland.
Now let’s jump back to today.
- 2018 N.L. Central—The Brewers and Cubs have been generating a hateful relationship over the last several years and with both clubs being pennant contenders, the race for the division crown was heated during the month of September. Both teams hold a 94-67 record as they enter the final game of the year—the Cubs at home against the Cardinals and the Brewers at home against Tigers. It just seems wrong that one club is playing a league and division foe while the other is embarking on an interleague match.
- 2018 N.L. West—The Dodgers and Rockies are tied after game 161 with 90-71 records. The Dodgers will try to win their sixth consecutive N.L. West Division title with a victory over the rival San Francisco Giants while the Rockies will attempt to dethrone LA with a win against the Nationals.
The Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, and Dodgers all have clinched a playoff berth, either by division champion or wild card—tomorrow may determine the title holders unless they finish the year with the same record and a playoff game will be played on Monday to determine the division victors.
Baseball’s mass appeal has been built on confrontations between opponents from the same division or league.
And, this should continue to be repeated as long as somebody from the league puts a stop to interleague games being played at the end of the year.
Cheers to both the Cubs and Brewers on outstanding seasons, and thumbs down to the MLB hierarchy for allowing interleague games in September.